The New Arcadia/Chapter 26
GREEK MEETS GREEK.
"O what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive."—Scott.
"My friend, get money; get a large estate
By honest means; but get at any rate."—Horace.
"I hate ingratitude more in a man
"Fifty thousand pounds that bit of paper's worth if only things take a right turn."
Elms sat at the table in his front parlour. Malduke bent over him scanning two documents, evidently objects of interest to both men.
"The boss will not rummage for them again, and won't miss them," continued Elms. "I was in luck; he got me to help him overhaul the papers he's got registered in a book and stowed away in the safe. He was two minds to make away with this bit of a Will about the first affair. My heart was in my mouth. 'At any rate the land's there,' he says; 'it hasn't run away, though the people have. If anything happened to me it might be worth something to you, Elms.' Then he adds a codicil, and sets two visitor chaps to witness it.
"'This property I bequeath to my faithful co-worker, John Elms, for his sole use and benefit.'
"'The spot where we made our first modest venture,' he said, 'will be of interest, and perhaps of some little value to you. The scrub has got up again, I understand, but the land ought to be worth two or three pounds an acre.'
"He went on," continued the Sergeant, "to read this other will, settling Mimosa Vale and his other properties. He's certainly dealing handsome with the men," continued Elms, perusing the document. "The five thousand acres will virtually be theirs with all the improvements. Twenty thousand pounds if a penny! And that's a low figure considering all the plant that's on the place.—Now let's see if this first bit of paper bears the construction you think it does," continued Elms.
Both read and re-read the few lines contained in the smaller document, whereby the property known as "Courtenay's Village" would devolve, in event of the doctor's death, to John Elms, as trustee in the interest of those concerned. The codicil made the disposition absolute.
This instrument had been drawn in town, before the larger venture was projected. Later the men were withdrawn to Mimosa Vale. Nothing had been generally known of the original tentative movement.
"By Jove! you are right, lad," exclaimed Elms, after a long pause, when both were turning over in their minds a host of possible contingencies.
"If this other Will was out of the way, and if anything happened to the doctor, the Mimosa Vale Estate, the only place men know as 'Courtenay's Village,' would be mine."
"And mine," suggested Malduke, with a leer.
"Yes, and yours. You, of course, put me up to it. You'd have your share."
"First and foremost then," suggested Malduke, "make away with this stupid scrawl. I'll soon do it," and he seized the document spread before them.
"Not so fast," replied the elder man, laying his heavy hand on the crackling sheet. "He's been a good friend to me. This is a noble settlement of his property." The man hesitated. He looked out on to the bright, luxuriant garden, and then down to the dark floor, and seemed, as expressions of good and evil flitted across his face, to receive suggestion from the dark and from the light.
"Such a friend," growled Malduke, with vehemence, "as the conscience-stricken oppressor ever is to the poor who serve him. A friend remember, John Elms, who spurned your daughter from his son's side."
"That's true," muttered Elms, with an oath. "If they'd only let that come off, and not allowed their blessed pride to break the child's heart, as her mother's afore her, I'd have no need to think of this," holding up the slip of paper, "to get my girl her rights.—It is her rights," he continued, smiting the table with energy. "I have sworn she shall have the position her mother lost. She's a born lady, if ever there was one."
"It seems to me," Malduke could not resist slyly remarking, "that with all your levelling, old cove, you're always ready—specially you half-and-half chaps—to scramble up into the place you'd pull others down from.—At any rate," he continued, noting the fiery Irishman's darkening face, "your daughter's been badly done by; she's been scorned and shamed. You, too, shoved into a corner. No real leader as you're born to be—a mere farm-hand 'boss.' It wasn't for this you put the old man up to the business. See again," pointing contemptuously to the document, "he's not left you a thing in the whole blessed business. I call that downright robbery.
"Tear it up, man," continued the agitator, observing that he was working successfully upon the Irishman's pride.
"Where's your principles?" he added. "Sitting still and seeing a place like this handed over to a lot of scrambling individuals. Who's ever got right to give away the land that belongs to all? Where's your Communism here, I'd like to know? I say it's all base Individualism and bastard Socialism.
"Haven't you the right?" he continued, when the other still hesitated. "Who, I'd like to know, hit upon this idea and made this place but you? Haven't you every call to cast to the winds this one-sided scrawl that's written, like all their title-deeds, with the black blood of traitors and murderers, that leaves you, and your daughter, John Elms, out in the cold?" The wily persuader laid his hand impressively on his victim's arm.
"I have been treated scandalous, that's certain," growled Elms. "But tampering with another man's papers is mean." He hesitated. "Well, all's fair in love and war. I suppose I'd better. At any rate here goes!"
In a moment the so carefully prepared document of the man then visiting humble homes to say farewell, was torn across and across.
"Here, take it and burn it, you base leader, as your name implies," exclaimed the Sergeant, thrusting the handful of pieces into his companion's hands.
The latter went to the kitchen, caught up an empty tin that lay on the table, thrust the fragments into it, pressed down the lid till the jagged sides caught together, put the tin into his pocket, and, in less time than it takes to relate, returned to Elms, who was staring at the remaining Will.
"One of them two inevitable things has happened," remarked Malduke, sententiously. "Number one, the Will has disappeared. Now, as to number two, if anything should happen to the doctor, you must see to that, Elms. You're to be his guardian angel."
"What do you mean, you devil of an anarchist?" cried the elder, starting and turning a searching eye on his companion. "You're a very fiend, Richard Malduke, as all your cruel crew are. For all the estates in Christendom I'll lay no hand on him."
"God may do that," replied the other, with mock solemnity, feeling that he had been moving too fast. "The man's done for. One foot in the grave already. You are going with him to-morrow. A lot of things may," he added, significantly, "happen between here and the other side of the world and back."
"I'm not going to help them, at any rate," was the dogged reply, as the tempted one thumped the table, looking very savage and very virtuous.
"Well, consider at least these two things," said the agitator, accustomed to marshal his crude thoughts under artificial headings. "Think what you and I could do with this here place, if it was ours—the kind of real living commune we could set up. And consider again, what's the good of a man when his work's done? Is it not sometimes a mercy to remove him from trouble to come—to put him out of his misery, poor chap? What is the cause, I'd like to know, of the present deterioration of the race? Why, the insane way in which useless people are patched up, in hospitals and asylums, and set adrift to sow seeds of disease throughout the community. One of our planks is, away with the useless! A safe and speedy passage for them to the other world. If only your maudlin Christianity, with its mawkish sentiment, would not keep alive and maintain drivelling idiots, paralyzed paupers, sickly consumptives, and cancerous plagues of society, this world would be a fairly safe hunting-ground for a clever man. The poor wretches are happier in the other world, the parsons tell them. We're better in this, without them. It's for the benefit of all concerned that the sick drones as well as occasionally mischievous persons of importance should sometimes be got out of the way.
"Have you not a duty to Society?" he continued. "Are you always going to live for the individual? Don't be weak, John Elms. Rise to the level of the principles you profess. Now, to speak plainly and practically, would it not be well for all if your companion slipped by chance—though you happened to be near—say, out of the stern-lights of the Mimosa one dark night, or tumbled beneath a locomotive as you and he rushed across a line to catch a train? A hundred and one sad little accidents like that might happen anywhere between the Vale and New York. Eh presto! the thing's done in a moment. He'd go to heaven, and the property 'd come to you—and to me."
"We'll say nothing more about that," replied Elms, evidently torn by conflicting passions. "Maybe in the natural course the doctor will never return."
"He must not return. He shall not," said the other, with a diabolical expression on his cunning countenance.
"Look here, old man," he continued, with an ugly smile. "You're going to leave me sorrowing to-morrow. Just let's have a friendly understanding. You write down here what's to be my share."
"What do you want, disinterested mortal, Friend of the People?"
"You know. Your daughter, and a third interest in the property."
After some demur, the Sergeant, who was turning over in his mind what he would do with the place, the palace in town he would build, &c., &c., if, by any chance, the coveted possession did fall to him, signed the agreement that Malduke dictated.
"A thing like that," Elms thought, "is not worth the paper it's written on. In any case the man must have a share, if fortune favours us."
"Now, give me your hand," said Malduke, rising, after depositing the agreement beside the tin in his jacket pocket. "Swear to me that, come what may, old Courtenay never returns to Mimosa Vale."
"I'll do nothing of the kind, you devil's son," doggedly replied the Sergeant with an oath, as he made the table creak again with a bang of his fist. "I'll not say what will happen, or what I'll do," and he turned to read the Will afresh, and to dream of the possibilities conceived for him in the womb of time.
"By God, you shall swear though!" A hand clutched his shoulder. Malduke spoke in a tone he had not before adopted with his friend. "You'll not trifle with me; I have a public duty to perform, John Elms. I have been trained to let no false sentiment come between me and such obligations. Listen to me! Make no mistake. If Courtenay sets foot on, that wharf, after tomorrow, I shall be compelled, mark you," the man spoke slowly, with emphasis; drawing near he hissed in Elms's ear, "to denounce you, to expose the man, his trusted servant, who stole and tore up, in my presence, the Will, that I can produce"—tapping the tin—"who, moreover, sought to bribe me with a share of the spoil"—again laying his hand on the document in his pocket.
The Sergeant was trapped. Again, however, the firebrand had flared too fast. Springing forward, upsetting the table, the fiery Irishman seized his tormentor by the throat. They grappled and rolled on the floor. The younger man shook off his assailant and rushed into the kitchen, seeking to escape by the back-door. He stumbled in his haste. The Irishman sprang on his victim, and seizing a knife from the table, brandished it unpleasantly about the conspirator's throat. Elms was only hesitating for a moment, as he had done before. His animal passions, strong when aroused, were urging him to desperation.
"Murder! Help!" cried the horror-stricken wretch beneath.
At this juncture, fortunately perhaps for both men, the door was thrown open. Old Alec, with a huge pitchfork in his hand, appeared on the threshold, exclaiming—
"By the Hokey Pokey! Mr. Elms, what are you up to? I thought some one was being murdered."
"Only a bit of horseplay," replied the ready Sergeant, rising. "We've been having a farewell glass together, haven't we, Dicky? It's got into our heads a bit. Hope you're not hurt, Duke. And how's the world treating you, McDowl?"
Alec pretended to accept the explanation of the guilty pair, who appeared less at ease than their feigned merriment suggested. As the old man left, Elms was putting together some papers strewn about the parlour floor, while Malduke searched anxiously in another part for something he had lost.
"You don't see an old tin about, do you?" asked the younger man, quietly, as if not to be heard by the other.
"Be you hungry, then?" queried Alec with surprise. "Miss Elms don't keep her lobster on the parlour floor, though for the matter of that, it's clean enough to eat 'em off."
"It's empty, man," replied Dick; adding to himself—"With paper worth fifty thousand pounds."
Passing out by way of the kitchen. Alec observed on the floor the very tin. He saw that it had been rudely closed and contained paper.
"The rogues have been fighting for this," muttered the old man, picking it up and putting it into his pocket. He said to himself as he departed—"I'll take care of it for them. I wish to God some other man than that dog Elms was a-going with the master to-morrow. The Lord preserve him!"